Neptune King and the Mysterious Monk by Magda Jozsa by Magda Jozsa - Read Online

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Neptune King and the Mysterious Monk - Magda Jozsa

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TWENTY

CHAPTER ONE

The mist hung low and heavy over the moors, occasionally lifting slightly so one could discern the faint shapes of shrubs and rocky clumps giving an unwary wanderer the illusion of solid ground, not boggy marsh. If you stared at the mist too long it seemed to swirl creating spectral beings escaping their graves and rising to the heavens, and amidst this creepy unforgiving terrain stood an ancient testament to man’s ability to build anything anywhere. The old monastery seemed right at home here and with the dawn it came to life. A bell rang sounding lonely and eerie in the morning fog signifying that the monks had started their day.

Ψ Ψ Ψ

The monastery had been built in the 16th century by Capuchin monks and the Capuchin monks still resided there to this day, their numbers gradually dwindling until there was only ten left. They sat around the long table that had once housed fifty and ate their humble breakfast, chatting occasionally.

After breakfast, they attended morning prayer then separated to tackle their morning tasks—some to wash the breakfast dishes, others to feed their livestock, and a couple to tend the garden. The head friar at the monastery, Friar Luigi, black haired and bearded, and quite round and short went to his office to attend to his paperwork while Friars Francis and Marconi went upstairs to the library.

The previous day some two dozen boxes of ancient texts had come to them from Rome and it was their job to sort, classify, catalogue and study them.

The two friars entered the large musty smelling library. The room was quite dark despite the tall windows. Friar Marconi turned on the lights and stopped in shock.

The boxes which had been stacked neatly were now all spread out and their seals broken. What is this, he gasped, speaking in his native Italian.

Friar Francis also stared about him in bewilderment and replied also in Italian. I don’t understand. Who would do this?

They moved closer and checked out the books and parchment rolls in each box. They appeared to be intact and undamaged.

We should tell Brother Luigi, suggested Brother Marconi.

Friar Francis nodded, still looking bewildered.

There were no telephones in the friary so Marconi hurried back downstairs to Friar Luigi’s office.

Brother Luigi, he said on entering, not bothering to knock.

You looked disturbed, Brother Marconi, said Friar Luigi in Italian, looking the breathless monk over. Most of the monks at the monastery were of Italian descent and they tended to talk their native language when conversing together and in English when all the monks were together as four of them were of different nationalities and it made it easier if they all spoke the same language.

I am. Someone has tampered with the boxes of books from Rome. They were neatly stacked last night and only one box was open—now they are scattered around the library and all are open.

Friar Luigi frowned, and then stood up. Show me.

They hurried back to the library to find Friar Francis going through one of the boxes.

He looked up when they entered. Brother Luigi, there are two parchments missing from the box I opened yesterday. There were half a dozen parchments in the box, now there is only four.

Do you know what the missing parchments contained?

Francis shook his head. No, I was studying the diary of Cardinal Lonchessi.

I too was studying a diary, added Marconi.

What about the other boxes? asked Friar Luigi, Anything else missing?

Both monks shrugged.

The boxes were still sealed when we left them. We haven’t had time to catalogue them yet, explained Friar Francis."

Luigi nodded. Then do so now. Take stock of the contents of each box and make a record. We will have plenty of time to study them but it will help to know if anything else goes missing.

They two monks nodded.

Friar Luigi took one last look at the scattered boxes and slowly returned to his office, thinking. There were only ten monks at the Friary. Never had anything like this ever happened before. Everyone in the Friary was welcome to study the books and parchments kept in the library. They did not need to ask permission or sneak in during the night. It was all very strange."

Ψ Ψ Ψ

The next morning Friar Luigi joined Friars Francis and Marconi when they went upstairs to the library. The boxes were neatly stacked just as they had left them the previous day but sitting on the book pedestal were two rolled parchments.

Friar Francis made the discovery and gave a loud cry.

Something wrong, Brother Francis? asked Luigi.

The missing parchments—they’ve returned!

Luigi came forward and picked one up, unrolling it carefully. It was written in Latin and described a priest’s journey from Rome to England on a missive from the Vatican. It is not damaged, he observed.

Who took them? asked Friar Francis looking bewildered again. That seemed to be a frequent expression on his face lately.

We will enquire at lunch, Luigi replied. At least they are not lost or damaged.

Ψ Ψ Ψ

At lunch, Luigi tapped his fork against the side of his glass to gain the attention of the other monks. All eyes turned towards him.

By now you are aware of what took place in the library yesterday. Today the missing parchments have returned. There are only ten of us here so I must ask who is responsible for this? It is not a crime to want to study the books or parchments, you are all free to do so, but to do it in secret is what puzzles me.

The monks exchanged glances with each other, all looking perplexed.

Finally, Brother O’Leary said, We are all aware of that, Brother Luigi. I for one have no interest in the books. You all know my Latin is a bit sketchy.

The other monks smiled. O’Leary was Irish and his attempts at both Latin and Italian were a constant source of amusement to them.

Luigi nodded and smiled also. Then he looked across at the dark haired, dark eyed and dark bearded man sitting beside Friar Matteo. Brother Stefano, and you Brother Depardu, you are both new to the Friary, perhaps you were not aware of our freedom of access. I know some monasteries have strict rules about who can access their books, but we have no such rules here.

That is one of the reasons why I requested to come here, said Brother Depardu, his accent noticeably French. I plan to write a treatise on the Franciscan monk’s work in France in the late 16th Century and I had heard that you have the diaries of some of those French monks.

Luigi nodded. He knew this about Depardu.

I did not know this, said Brother Stefano in Italian, his English being rather rudimentary. I come here to learn English, not study the ancient texts, although now that I know we are free to do so I will certainly make the most of this opportunity.

Perhaps we have poltergeists, suggested Brother Overton, a ruddy faced Englishman with a full beard moustache and mutton chop side burns.

Then they have only just arrived, countered Brother Francis. Nothing like this has happened here before.

Overton smiled. Did you check the boxes closely? Perhaps they contained something extra.

I am sure there is nothing supernatural involved here. Nothing is damaged or missing. We will end the matter now, said Luigi, feeling a little disappointed that no one had owned up to it.

CHAPTER TWO

Over the next few weeks, not only the books in the boxes were found mixed up, moved or temporarily missing, but also books on the shelves were often found on the floor or on different shelves, or piled on the reading desks. Add to that, strange thumps and banging noises were heard during the night and had the monks believing that not only books had arrived from Rome but also restless spirits. Whenever they went to investigate the noises there was nothing to be found except the upheaval in the library. They would check the doors and windows but all would be locked and untouched. It was all very perplexing and a little frightening. What troubled Friar Luigi the most was that no one at the monastery admitted to being responsible. He didn’t believe in the supernatural.

Ψ Ψ Ψ

Friar Matteo lay on his bunk, tossing and turning. Dinner had not agreed with him. He didn’t want to get up because his knees ached and he was tired but he knew he would get no sleep if he did not relieve himself. He got out of bed and slipped on his robe and made his way to the lavatory thankful that recently it had been brought inside. That was much better than taking a long walk outside especially in winter, not that it was winter yet. It was near the end of August after an exceptionally hot summer. The temperatures were more bearable now. Still warm but not stifling hot, it had been an unusually hot summer for England.

His relief was almost instantaneous after his visit to the lavatory. He sighed; just as well he did get up. He looked at his reflection in the small mirror above the basin. The circle of hair on his head was white and thinning. His matching white beard was also on the thin scruffy side and his eyesight was no longer as good as it had once been. The other monks took over the heavy chores from him as they knew he could no long kneel down to garden and his hands were weak and deformed from arthritis. His job was to feed the chickens—a token job given to him to make him still feel useful. He wasn’t as young as he’d once been but this was a good place to be and the only life he’d known. The monastery was his home; he’d come here as a twenty-two year old and would die here someday.

As he began to limp his way back to his room he heard a faint sound. It wasn’t the first time the monks had been disturbed by noises in the night, especially lately. They seemed to be happening more often. The scraping noises, the bangs and the strange things that went on in the library.

There it was again, a faint tapping. He hesitated a moment wondering if he should wake one of the other monks to come investigate, but then his curiosity got the better of him so he turned and went down a side corridor away from the sleeping quarters and towards the kitchen. As he approached the tapping seemed louder and then he saw a light. He slowed and approached more cautiously.

He could see a monk tapping a hammer against the wall. He appeared to be listening as he did so.

What are you doing? asked Friar Matteo in his native Italian.

The monk turned on his words, his hood concealing his face, and rushed towards him, swinging the hammer and bringing it down on the side of his head.

Friar Matteo dropped soundlessly.

The monk stood over him for a long moment, before putting the hammer down and hooking his hands beneath Matteo’s arms. He pulled him along the corridor until they reached the foot of the stairs that went up to the library. He positioned the old monk lying face down, head at such an angle that the wound bled onto the floor beneath it and moved his legs up onto the two bottom steps. He stepped back and studied his handiwork for a moment before returning to where he’d left the hammer. There was blood on the floor where Matteo had fallen. He grunted an obscenity then turned and went into the kitchen only to return with a wet cloth to clean the floor. When all evidence was gone, he hooked the hammer in his cord belt and returned to his room, cursing his luck.

Ψ Ψ Ψ

The sun had barely risen when the three monks on kitchen duty got up, washed and made their way towards the kitchen. One, Friar Overton glanced through the archway as he passed and stopped abruptly. He called to the other two who had kept going, then dashed towards the staircase. The other two followed him.

"It’s Brother Matteo, said Overton kneeling beside the dead man. He lifted his head a little and saw the wound.

He must have fallen down the stairs during the night, said Friar Augustus. I will get Brother Luigi.

The other two nodded and Friar Augustus hurried off. He returned five minutes later with Friar Luigi.

What has happened? Luigi asked.

Brother Matteo has fallen down the stairs, explained Overton.

What was he doing up the stairs in the first place?

Maybe he heard noises in the library, suggested Friar Depardu, and went up to investigate.

Friar Luigi frowned. He would have done so with extreme difficulty. It was painful for him to walk up and down stairs.

Still… Friar Augustus paused. I will go check. He ran up the stairs to the library and reappeared a moment later. Brother Luigi, he called urgently.

Luigi hurried up the stairs and stopped by the doorway. Once again books had been taken off the shelves and left in heaps here and there. One antique tome was open and he could see several pages had been ripped out. These books were hundreds of years old; such destruction could not be tolerated.

He turned and went back downstairs. Take Brother Matteo back to his room and cover him. I will have to go into town and notify the authorities of his death."

It’s accidental, said Overton.

Accidental or not, I must report it. He returned to his room to put his sandals on, having left them off when called from bed so urgently. As he did so his eyes strayed to the newspaper on his small table. It was his one indulgence. They lived a fairly humble life here and tried to live up to the principals of their founder, Saint Francis of Assisi. However his one enjoyment in life was to read the newspapers whenever he found a discarded copy. The one on his desk was new. His favourite story in it was the one about the private detectives who apprehended a young arsonist who’d burned down an entire warehouse in the West End, destroyed a priceless Chinese artifact, and when caught was in the process of attempting to burn down a house with a family still inside. The reporter went on to say these detectives were fast gaining a reputation for solving the unsolvable and there was no mystery too small or too large that they wouldn’t tackle.

He picked up the paper and looked at the names. Neptune King and Shark Johnson of K&J Investigations. He’d read about them before, often. They were very successful. Despite what Brother Overton said, Brother Matteo’s death could not have been an accident, add to that the desecration of the book and the other strange happenings here, perhaps it was time he asked for help. He was in charge and responsible for the other nine friars living here, if there was a killer amongst them he could strike again. None of them were safe.

As he went out to try and start the old truck which was the only vehicle at the Friary, Friar Augustus came out to him and held out a thick piece of buttered bread. You have not had breakfast Brother Luigi; this will sustain you until you return.

Thank you, Brother Augustus. He put the bread on the seat beside him and turned the key. The old truck made its usual grunting sounds and failed to turn over. He tried again and again until finally it caught and the engine revved. He gave Friar Augustus a wave and drove off, explosions from the exhaust sending him on his way.

Plymouth was the nearest town and that was nearly ten miles from the monastery, ten long miles if the truck didn’t make it, which was a frequent occurrence. As he drove, he thought about what he had to do. Tomorrow he would leave early and begin the walk into town to catch the train to London. It was market day so hopefully he would be able to thumb a ride. That was usually how they got about. He didn’t want the other monks to know what he would be doing so he would have to think of some other excuse to warrant such a trip. He didn’t want the person responsible for Friar Matteo’s death to know he was suspicious.

Ψ Ψ Ψ

For once the truck didn’t break down and he made it to town in good time. He went to the police station first and reported the death. They promised to send the coroner out to assess if it was accidental. Despite his suspicions he didn’t voice them to the police. He knew they would think he was imagining things or worse, he was crazy. Even to his mind the recent occurrences were rather fanciful. Some of the monks were superstitious and believed the happenings were a harbinger of something unpleasant to come, now manifested by Matteo’s death, while others believed there were the malevolent forces of poltergeists at work. He wasn’t sure which was true, if any, but there was definitely something going on at the Friary and whether that was the work of the devil or a man he wasn’t in a position to answer, only there was no way he was going to look foolish in the eyes of the police. He’d had dealings with the police before and knew they tolerated the monks but didn’t consider them the same as mainstream priests. They were something of an anachronism to them. A private investigator would be less judgmental and perhaps more open minded. That’s what he needed, someone capable of looking at the situation without a preconceived notion. He had heard that Neptune King was such a man, one who reveled in the unknown and mysterious.

Once he was finished with the police, he went to the nearest telephone box and had the operator connect him to London.

CHAPTER THREE

Shark Johnson, his younger brother Dolph and his younger sister, Suzy along with his best friend and business partner, Neptune King waited impatiently in the arrivals lounge at Heathrow.

Their plane is late, complained Shark. They should have been here an hour ago.

Maybe they had bad weather or something on their end, suggested Neptune. It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s a quiet day at work so we have nothing better to do.

I s’pose.

I wonder how Mum looks, said seventeen year old Suzy moving away from the window and coming over to join them.

She’s only been gone a couple of months, scoffed Dolph. I doubt if she’s changed all that much in just eight weeks.

Suzy glared at him and tossed her long dark brown hair over her shoulder. All the girls in the Johnson family were dark haired and pretty, while the boys were blond and handsome. I didn’t mean it like that. I meant I wonder if she would be tanned and relaxed and happy looking.

Why wouldn’t she be? countered Dolph. She’s just had a couple of months off work and has been gallivanting around Europe doing nothing but sightsee and relax.

You’re such a boy, Dolph. You don’t know anything!

Neptune smiled at their interaction. I see they haven’t changed, he said to Shark.

Brothers and sisters—typical behaviour. Can you imagine what it was like when we were growin’ up and there were five of us. Lance and Gwen were always fighting, and these two were always arguing. I’m surprised Mum kept her sanity.

What about you? You’re the middle one. Who did you argue with?

Shark grinned. Mostly Gwen because she was so bossy. These little ones looked up to me.

Hey, who are you calling little? growled nineteen year old Dolph, who’d grown another inch in the past year and was now six foot one and muscular. Both he and Shark towered over Neptune’s paltry five foot nine inch height.

You’re little to me, pointed out Shark. I’ve still got an inch on yuh. He was just an older muscular version of Dolph, and his older brother Lance was again just a slightly taller version of Shark.

Well I wouldn’t know about any of that. I don’t recollect ever arguing with Mermaid. Whenever she visited I was just glad to see her, and since I’ve learned just how much she sacrificed to look after me I doubt if I’ll ever argue, even when she’s being bossy, said Neptune.

Well it was different with you; there was just the two of yuh.

Just then an announcement came over the loud speaker. Flight BA 247 now arriving.

That’s their flight, isn’t it? asked Suzy.

Shark nodded.

Shark’s mother had married Neptune’s business manager, ex butler and surrogate father, hence Neptune also being here to greet them on their return from their honeymoon. Neptune had missed Eugene Finlay. Finlay had always been a confidant to him, someone he could go to for advice, for commiseration or to learn from. His innate good manners and politeness were honed by Finlay to turn him into a gentleman. By comparison Shark was a rough diamond. Always in trouble as boy, skipping school and mixing with the wrong crowd saw him quit school early and join a biker gang, only to end up on their hit list. With nowhere safe to go in his country of birth, Australia, he began to travel abroad and it was a kind twist of fate that brought Neptune and Shark together. Once they joined forces they had gone from strength to strength and their detective agency was one of the best in the country and highly regarded by not only Scotland Yard, but also by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, to whom they’d been of service in the past.

Since meeting Neptune, Shark had realized the value of education and under Neptune’s tutelage improved his reading and writing skills to the point that he went to night school and finally graduated from high school. The only thing that Shark couldn’t seem to shake was his accent, it was almost as pronounced now, six years later, as it was when Neptune first met him. Every now and again Shark made an effort to sound his g’s and not run words together but at times like this when he was with his family, the Australian accent would become stronger.

Suzy and Dolph were back at the window again. There’s the plane, called Suzy excitedly as they watched it taxi along the runway. Shouldn’t be long now.

They still have to get through customs, Shark reminded her.

I’m sure it won’t take them as long as it did us when we first came here, after all we’re all British citizens now.

Good point, Suze. He went to ruffle her hair but she dodged him. She hated that. All her brothers knew she hated it and they always went out of their way to do it. Brothers!

Another forty-five minutes passed before the deplaned passengers started appearing.

Mum, yelled Suzy, waving as she spotted her mother walking arm in arm with Finlay.

Mrs Valerie Finlay smiled at her and waved back.

A few minutes later they were through the barrier and joining them. Valerie was in her late fifties, blonde and still attractive. She hugged Suzy first, then Dolph, Shark, and finally to his surprise, Neptune.

It’s wonderful to see all of you. We weren’t expecting you all to be here.

All except Lance, he couldn’t make it, explained Suzy. Hey, Gene, you’re looking good. Did you have a lovely time?

We did indeed, Suzannah, said Finlay smiling at her. He liked Valerie’s youngest. She was always the easiest one to get along with. The boys tended to tease him a bit, especially when he was courting their mother.

You look great, Mum, said Shark. "At least ten years younger. Don’t tell me you found the fountain of